I am going to make Gumbo again this New Year’s Day. I have shared this story before. I had what I thought was a great recipe in a cookbook titled “One of a Kind: Recipes from the Junior League of Mobile.” I took the cookbook to our husband’s aunt Tommie for her advice on the ingredients. A former New Orleans native and authentic Cajun (her father was from Paris and her mother, African American) known for her Gumbo recipe, which she guarded like a state secret. She took the book and crossed out (with great emotion) some of listed the ingredients and added no new ones. I did not know that excellent Gumbo is simple. She did not use crab meat, chicken, or the gumbo file but just Andouille sausage and lots of shrimp. The secret is the roux and the cooking time. The best okra is frozen, and do not cook it long. Add the shrimp and do not overcook. It only takes a few minutes if the Gumbo is hot. That gave me her special recipe, which I continue to make. I realize though the real ingredient is “Love.”
“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” —Oprah Winfrey
The story of my Gumbo is one of loss but also of love. We lost Aunt Tommie from complications of Alzheimer’s and have lost so many other family members since I acquired her Gumbo recipe. Now, COVID-19 has taken so much from us this past year. No holiday gatherings and the need to keep our families safe. No walks with friends or casual meetings. I realized that for me, this was transforming how I deal with colleagues and patients. Not being judgmental, but I am intolerant of dismissive attitudes about the disease and how it so easily spread, and the fact that it is leaving a trail of death and lasting effects worldwide. I had to face the deep hurt caused by the senseless deaths of unarmed African American males and females and a Black woman physician’s death from COVID that played out in real-time in what can only be racist. Every time I see these videos, I shed tears. Our cell phone cameras have chronicled these countless moments of injustice. These acts demonstrated the systemic and structural racism in our country that permeates every aspect of our lives as African Americans. Maybe what pushed me over the edge was watching the video of an innocent 14-year old African American teenage male being accused of stealing an iPhone that was later found in an Uber and returned. The horror I felt as I witnessed her tackle him. I became fearful, thinking about what could have happened and thankful it didn’t. Taking the time to make Gumbo seems appropriate for this moment in history. I need to stir up some love. 2020 ripped my heart into pieces. What I lost and gained I am still trying to define for myself. Hopefully, those mended pieces of my heart will heal, leaving no visible scars.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Being mindful of and not dismissive of historical injustices of the past, I made a weighty decision after reading all the information I could get. I took the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and will complete my second dose. It was my responsibility to step up and speak out for science. My goal is to make sure that factual and reliable information is shared and that I can be a voice to listen, inform and support my family, patients, colleagues, and friends as they make their own personal decisions. As one of only 5 % of African American physicians in the US, I must do my part.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.” T.S. Eliot
New Year’s is a time of reflection and reconnection to one’s self. I always make black-eyed peas for good luck. My New Year’s commitment is to be a loud voice and advocate. I plan to get into some “good trouble,” and I know that you will all join me. We have so much work to do in 2021. Together the community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, we must rebuild trust in our health care system, dismantle racism and rebuild trust in our government. We were asked to do that in 2020, and we will be asked to do it in 2021. The year 2020 saw us vote in record numbers, take to the streets to fight for justice, and make history in countless ways. The new year 2021 will require the same from us. Unfortunately for us in Healthcare, we will have to deal with COVID-19 surges and try to care our non-COVID patients.
We must remember to wash our hands, wear our masks and practice social distancing by avoiding indoor gatherings.
Happy New Year!